Choose Freedom

“For freedom Christ has set us free…” Galatians 5:1

I have a love-hate relationship with flying. I love to travel, and I could spend hours exploring airports, but I hate actually flying on a plane. Now there are a lot of reasons for this: the take off scares the mess out of me, turbulence makes me want to crawl under my seat and cry, and landing is just plain terrifying. But most importantly, it’s the fact that I feel trapped. I know that I can’t get off the plane while we’re in midair, but I hate not having the ability to control my surroundings and my own safety. Can I fly a plane? Heck no. But that need for control is enough to make me consider getting a pilot’s license.

All of this begs the question: why is having control so important to me? Why do I feel the desire to scream and get off the plane, just because then I would be in control? I honestly don’t have an answer. Here’s what I do know: I can’t control everything in life, and that’s probably best because then most things would not go well. I’ve had to learn to give myself the freedom of allowing God to take over.

Let’s be real here for a sec. The thought of giving full lordship of our lives to God is terrifying, and not just for a type A person like myself. The idea that He could send me to a third world country as a full time missionary, or that maybe I’m called to a life of singleness, or even that He wants me to step up and share my story in a public setting – these are all huge possibilities. And while these may seem overwhelming, I know that through Christ’s power in me, I can handle it. Giving God control of my life looks different every day; it can mean choosing not to worry about what’s to come, and more often than not, it means placing the burdens of my heart at His feet.

One of my favorite passages of scripture comes from Luke 18:9-14, and it may seem like it doesn’t quite fit the point I’m trying to get across, but hang with me. It’s the story of a tax collector praying in the temple, and he’s so distraught over his sins that he won’t even look up. He instead beats his chest and says, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” (v. 14) This is how we should come to the cross. Whether we’re asking for forgiveness, seeking Godly wisdom, venting our frustrations, or praising His goodness – we come before the throne humbly; acknowledging our imperfections and then giving it all to God. This is why I love that scripture: I see myself in the tax collector – sinful, unworthy, broken – but I’m reassured by this: God sees my needs, and the desire I have to control my surroundings or carry my burdens alone. If I will just come before Him and simply ask, then He takes that weight and allows me to stand up, brush the dirt from my knees, and walk way free.

You see, there’s a kind of joyful anxiety that comes with giving the reigns over to the One who is so much smarter, all-knowing, and more powerful than you are. I rejoice in the realization that I don’t have to carry the burden of the unknown on my shoulders. Because no matter where I go, what I do, or what comfort zone He calls me out of, I can trust that He’s got me. And He’s not letting go.

That promise isn’t just for me, however, it’s for everyone. It’s for the young girl who struggles to find her worth and identity in relationships and popularity. For the college student who fears what his parents will say when he tells them he wants to go on the mission field instead of finishing school, and for every man or woman who struggles to make a life-changing decision for their family. Don’t carry the burden or need for control on your weak and trembling shoulders, let the Almighty God lift your head and place them in His ever-capable hands.

 

“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you;” Psalm 55:22

For Such a Time as This

“And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Esther 4:14

Today someone asked me, “what do you think your ‘time’ is?” and it got me thinking about my current season and this time in my life. How would I characterize it? What’s the purpose behind this time? In the story of Esther we read how the Lord orchestrated so many events in her life that ultimately saved her people, yet those events often seemed unrelated and inconsequential.

I look back over my life and am in awe of how the Lord never stopped working for my good.  So many days seemed inconsequential at the time, yet became the cornerstones for some of the greatest moments and experiences of my life. For example, the day that I walked into a band practice in 10th grade at my brand new school and met this strange and awkward bass player. I didn’t know then that the Lord had brought this incredible girl into my life to become my closest friend and confidant, and who would later pull me out of the darkness I sometimes found myself in. She would stand by me during my most difficult days and rejoice in my most treasured moments, and seven years later I would stand by her on her wedding day. One day, one moment, perfectly orchestrated by a Sovereign God.Georgia-Southern-Botanical-Gardens-Statesboro-GA-wedding-photography-550 I look back and see countless moments that I didn’t know would become my most favorite stepping-stones. As I’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser) I’ve begun to appreciate those moments at the time of occurrence, and to realize that while I may not know what the ultimate conclusion will be, I can enjoy and trust that the Lord is active and working.

“My time” is not inconsequential or unrelated. When I began the journey of moving to a new city and leaving the familiar behind, I turned to a friend who had gone through a similar situation. People say you should seek wise counsel, and she’s about as wise as they come. One of the most important things she’s ever said to me was something like this:

“Ans, I just know that where you’re at right now is a precipice for where the Lord is going to take you. I think you’re going to look back on this time and be amazed at what He had planned all along.”

I believe she was 100% correct. I may not know what the Lord has planned, but I know I’m right where I should be. I can feel it. I know that this new season, this new place, is preparing me for something greater than I could ever imagine. It may not be great or showy on the outside, but I firmly believe that He is doing a great work in and through me. He’s been with me on this journey and He’s taken me through some of the deepest valleys, only to bring me to the mountaintop (literally and figuratively). I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a place where you can actively feel the Lord working and preparing you for something. If you haven’t, I pray that you will some day, because it’s one of the greatest feelings. Every day I wake up knowing that He is preparing me for something life changing, and it’s the greatest combination of both freedom and surrender.

This is it. This is the moment. I pray that I never forget all that He has done for me, and all that He is going to do. If I have one bit of encouragement to say, it’s this: no matter where you’re at, no matter what you’ve been through, perhaps God has placed you in this season and in this moment for a reason. You may not be able to see it just yet, but hold fast and cling to Him, allow Him to complete His good works in you – because maybe, just maybe, you were created for such a time as this.

“For I am confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will continue to perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

Altogether Beautiful, My Love

Ugly. Unlovable. Different. Outcast.

These are words that Satan used to lash out at me daily. They’re harsh and unforgiving, but most importantly, they’re untrue. The world tells me that I don’t fit in, that I should be ashamed of my differences and either fix them or cover them up. But Jesus says that I am “altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in (me).” And if Jesus says it then it must be true, right? Absolutely. Does that make it easy to believe or remember? Not hardly.

You may be wanting a little backstory on me now, so here it goes: At the ripe old age of 11, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called Vitiligo – a condition in which the pigment is lost from areas of the skin, causing white patches, often with no clear cause and no available cure. Fun right? So while going through that super attractive middle school phase (braces, greasy hair, bandanas and sequin purses), I began to discover what it feels like to be different. I learned that people can be cruel and ignorant, and layer-by-layer I built up a thick skin, impenetrable to the arrows of rude comments and lack of understanding that came my way far too often.  I have a very distinct memory of being at a Goodwill in Atlanta, GA where I grew up, and I was wearing shorts because the Georgia heat was too intense that day. I remember a little boy walking up to me, staring intently at my legs with a disgusted look on his face, and finally saying, “what’s wrong with you?” I wish I could say that was the only time someone said something like that to me, but I’d be lying.

8th grade

8th grade

When I was 14 my parents and I moved to Statesboro, GA, and my little bubble of comfort burst. I’d finally been accepted by my friends at school and at church, and I didn’t have to constantly explain my skin condition to people. Unfortunately, all of that changes when you move to a new place. As my vitiligo continued to spread I tried even harder to cover it up, but it wasn’t until I got to college that I began to find my identity and acceptance in the only person that mattered: Jesus. You see, if you live your life to please other people, then you’ll always be unhappy. I can’t make someone think my vitiligo is beautiful, and that’s okay. They don’t know that my vitiligo has given me so many opportunities to share my faith, or that it’s allowed me to spend time encouraging other girls who struggle with identity issues and not feeling good enough. My differences do not make me ugly, they make me a testimony. These spots on my skin allow me to be a vessel to tell others of His goodness and love.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139: 13 – 14 

So here I am, 22 years old, and learning every day what it means to find acceptance in Christ and not in other people. I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy, and I still keep most of my skin covered up. With about 90% of my body covered in white patches, you’ll rarely see me in shorts or dresses, and I avoid bathing suits like the plague. Granted, I’m not supposed to spend much time in the sun anyways because of the dangerous effects it has on my vitiligo, but sometimes that can just be an excuse. I wholeheartedly believe that God has made me beautiful and that He created me in His perfect image. I don’t have to find love and acceptance from other people because ultimately that won’t fill the God-sized hole in my heart. It is only filled when I look to Him to find peace, and open His Word to find my true identity. He loves me, ME, a sinner who fails Him daily. He shed His blood on the cross to cover my sins, and He opens His arms to me when I need comforting.

So when the Devil spits in your face and tells you lies about your identity, remember this:

  • You are loved by the Creator of the universe
  • Other people do not determine your worth
  • You have been made NEW
  • He has set you free of bondage and will use your testimony to reach others
  • You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.

 

“You lift our weary head, you make us strong instead. You took these rags and made us BEAUTIFUL.” Jesus We Love You – Bethel Music

Where the Lord Leads

 How many times has your faith in God truly been tested? How often have you been faced with this choice: fight for the plans you selfishly made, or fall into God’s arms and allow His perfect plans to become yours? I thought my faith had been tested many times over the years – when I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder in middle school, when my parents moved me away from all my friends and to a small south Georgia town, and when my mom was battling breast cancer – but instead my faith was shallow. Sure, I trusted God in those hard times, but I had never known what it was like to put my faith in God with no abandon. That is, until about six months ago.

You see I know without a doubt that I have been called to ministry. I desire to work the day-to-day tasks that pave the way for people to come to know Christ. Because calling a first time guest isn’t just a phone call that has to be made, it’s the chance to show someone who maybe hadn’t been in church for years that we care about them, and that we care about why they chose to visit. Those conversations can sometimes be less than a minute and seem fruitless, but other times those phone calls result in a person sharing their struggles and allowing you to pray over them. That’s why I work in ministry, because everything we do paves the way for someone to potentially come to a saving relationship with the One who created them. However, six months ago that call to ministry seemed to be changing into something I hadn’t expected, and I had no idea what to do about it. My carefully designed plans were falling apart and I had to make the decision to walk away from my comfort zone and from the people I love most, and to follow where God was leading me – Asheville, NC. I wanted so badly to stay in Statesboro, GA, where I had lived for eight years. It’s where my parents are, where I met my best friend, where I graduated from high school and college, where I discovered my call to full-time ministry, and where I had some of the most amazing friends and coworkers I could have ever dreamed of having. But the Lord closed every door of possibilities that I tried to walk through, and he left the one leading to Asheville wide open, just waiting for me to suck it up and take a leap of faith.

“I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 89:1

So in June of this year, I left my comfort zone and moved to North Carolina, where I started working for Biltmore Baptist Church. I can honestly tell you that it’s a bittersweet season, but it’s the season I’m meant to be in. I love Biltmore and I love the people I’ve met, and every day I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness. The Bible says that He “…is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” and I believe that is 100% true. I’ve seen God’s faithfulness in the smallest things these past two months. Whether it’s in the people I work for and how they continually love and care for me, how my old job is surprisingly paralleled in the most unique ways to my new job, or that refreshing moment when I’m sitting at a local coffee shop and a random stranger comes up to me and asks how she can be praying for me. The Lord is faithful, my friends, He will not leave you. I may not know why I’m in Asheville just yet, and contrary to popular belief, it’s probably not to meet my future husband (but if it is, I’ll gladly be wrong). I don’t know where I’ll be in six months, and I don’t know where the Lord is leading me, but I know one thing for sure: He hasn’t failed me yet, so why should I start questioning Him now? 

You may be in a season of doubt and worry, and you may be questioning God’s plan for your life, but please don’t question His faithfulness. He knows the desires of your heart and He is not a God of despair. He will work all things out for the good of those who love Him – even if it’s not how you imagined or planned, it will be the greatest adventure and testing of your faith. Don’t rush the season.

“When God has developed you into the person that is ready for the next stage, He will see it through. You do not need to worry about it or force it…so in the meantime take joy in your season and embrace it for all the beautiful elements that it has, and just remember that your day is coming.” – Jen Hatmaker